Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle is hardly wild | Bleader

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle is hardly wild

Posted By on 12.02.14 at 02:00 PM

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Gael Garcia Bernal is Rodrigo.
  • Amazon
  • Gael Garcia Bernal is Rodrigo.
Never mind the date on the calendar: winter is upon us and so is the midseason hiatus that spans most network and cable TV programming. And since the cold got an early start this year, you've likely run through a sizable chunk of your streaming queue. Luckily, Amazon Studios is helping tide viewers over with Mozart in the Jungle, a "scandalous" take on the classical music world.

Based on concert musician Blair Tindall's memoir of the same name, and created and written by Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, Mozart in the Jungle offers a sneak peek at a fictional New York orchestra (sometimes referred to as the Philharmonic) through the eyes of newcomer Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke). She's a talented oboist, which we're told is a rare commodity (it is). And yet she's scraping together a living by giving lessons to spoiled Upper East Side kids and performing in off-Broadway pit orchestras.

We meet the rest of the leads in the middle of a symphony, with Maestro Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) leading the orchestra through his swan song as their conductor. He's being replaced by Rodrigo D'Souza (Gael García Bernal), a prodigy who's much younger and, as it turns out, more talented. Thomas dislikes Rodrigo immediately, scoffing when his successor Robert Benignis his way through the introduction by orchestra board chairperson Gloria Windsor (Bernadette Peters). And when Thomas learns just how many changes Rodrigo is instituting, including playing onstage in the dark, he's furious. And since he gets to stick around in a cushy emeritus position, we can expect that he'll resist Rodrigo's attempts to revive the troubled ensemble.

The drama of the power struggle is tempered by the kind of comedy that's to be mined from a behind-the-scenes look at an orchestra, like when Rodrigo nods off while auditioning woodwinds, or when cellist Cynthia (Saffron Burrows) reveals that violinists suffer from premature ejaculation because of all the arpeggios they play. But since even that second joke requires some familiarity with classical music terms, the humor can be hit or miss.

The source material is filled with drugs and sex, but what little debauchery we see is laughably tame. Hailey's roommate actually says "Let's get Bizet!" at a party she's hosting for a bunch of classical musicians who get drunk and improvise baroque and romantic riffs. Amazon doesn't have to worry about network or even cable standards of "decency," so there's a fair amount of sex, but it's unintentionally funny: a scene with Cynthia and Thomas in the back of a limo actually pairs the sound of his pants being unzipped with the sound of a record scratching at a party.

Mozart in the Jungle is worth a look, though, and not just because of the lack of competition. Bernal steals every scene he's in, playing Rodrigo as both visionary and impish. And I'll watch Bernadette Peters in anything. You can currently watch the pilot on Amazon for free, and the entire first season will be made available to Amazon Prime members on December 23.

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